Who Should Pay for Sewerage?

March 02, 1991

There were no big headlines or television cameras to greet it, but a milestone has occurred in the metropolitan area's development history: Baltimore County has agreed to pay the full cost of a $35.6-million expansion of the Patapsco Waste Water Treatment Plant in Curtis Bay.

Historically, Baltimore City has constructed and owned most of the region's water and sewage facilities. As the surrounding counties have grown, they have contributed to a share of that burden. Yet never before has the city been able to convince its suburban partners that additional service needs are strictly outside Baltimore's boundaries and that the financially strapped city should not be subsidizing the counties.

The expansion of the city-based Patapsco Waste Water Treatment Plant will be paid for by Baltimore County, which then will bill Howard County for that jurisdiction's share. The added capacity will handle effluents from the rapidly growing Ellicott City area as well as from Owings Mills, a new town center arising in northwestern Baltimore County. Whether such new population centers as Hunt Valley and White Marsh-Perry Hall will eventually require added capacity in other existing facilities is not clear yet, but if that proves to be the case, Baltimore County might end up allocating even more funds for water and sewer needs.

The Hayden administration's willingness to assume the Patapsco Waste Water Treatment Plant expansion costs is good news for Baltimore City.

Construction money from Towson eases the city's financial burden; it also strengthens the city-county partnership in operating water and sewer services. This is important because voices have been raised in recent years that suggest the creation of an independent authority to operate those services for the metropolitan region.

The authority idea was previously floated about two decades ago. Discussions ended when city and county experts could not resolve such sticky questions as compensation for existing city assets. Recently, Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke has talked about the possibility of a metropolitan authority but no formal proposals have been made. Road blocks still exist. In the meantime, it is good to know the counties now acknowledge their full fiscal responsibility for shared services.

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